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The AMD Radeon HD 6990, otherwise known as Antilles, is a card we have been expecting for some time now. In what’s become a normal AMD fashion, when they first introduced the Radeon HD 6800 series back in October, they also provided a rough timeline for the rest of the high-end members of the family. Barts would be followed by Cayman (6950/6970), which would be followed by the dual-GPU Antilles (6990).

AMD’s original launch schedule at the time was to have the whole stack out the door by the end of 2010 – Antilles would be the last product, likely to catch Christmas before it was too late. What ended up happening however is that Cayman didn’t make it out until the middle of December, which put those original plans on ice. So we ended up closing the year with the 6800 series and the single-GPU members of the 6900 series, but AMD did not launch a replacement for their flagship dual-GPU card, leaving AMD’s product stack in an odd place where their top card was a 5000 series card compared to the 6000 series occupying everything else.

So while we’ve had to wait longer than we anticipated for Antilles/6990, the wait has finally come to an end. Today AMD is launching their new flagship card, retiring the now venerable 5970 and replacing it with a new dual-GPU monster powered by AMD’s recently introduced VLIW4 design. Manufactured on the same 40nm process as the GPUs in the 5970, AMD has had to go to some interesting lengths to improve performance here. And as we’ll see, it’s going to be a doozy in more ways than one.

  AMD Radeon HD 6990 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 5970
Stream Processors 2x1536 1536 1408 2x1600
Texture Units 2x96 96 88 2x80
ROPs 2x32 32 32 2x32
Core Clock 830MHz 880MHz 800MHz 725MHz
Memory Clock 1.25GHz (5.0GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5.0GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.GHz (4GHz data rate) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 2x 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 2x256-bit
Frame Buffer 2x2GB 2GB 2GB 2x1GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/5
Transistor Count 2x 2.64B 2.64B 2.64B 2x2.15B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $699 $349 $259 N/A

For the Radeon HD 5970, AMD found themselves in an interesting position: with the 5000 series launching roughly 6 months ahead of NVIDIA’s 400 series of GPUs, they already had a lead in getting products out the door. But furthermore NVIDIA never completely responded to the 5970, foregoing dual-GPU entirely with the 400 series. The 5970 was undisputed king of video cards – no single card was more powerful. Thus given a lack of direct competition, how AMD can follow up on the 5970 is a matter of great interest.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics. The Radeon HD 6990 is AMD’s new flagship card, based on a pair of Cayman (VLIW4) GPUs mounted on a single PCB. AMD has clocked the GPU at 830MHz and the GDDR5 memory at 1250MHz (5GHz data rate). The card comes with 4GB of RAM, which due to the internal CrossFire setup of the card reduces the effective RAM capacity to 2GB, the same as AMD’s existing 6900 cards.

Starting with the 5970, TDP limits and the laws of physics began limiting what AMD could do with a dual-GPU card; unlike the 4870X2, the 5970 wasn’t clocked quite high enough to match a pair of 5870s. The delta between the 5970 and the 5870 came down to the 5970 being 125MHz slower on the core and 200MHz (800Mhz data rate) slower for its RAM. In practice this reduced 5970 performance to near-5850CF levels. For the 6990 this gap still exists, but it’s much smaller this time. At 830MHz the 6990 is only 50MHz (5.5%) slower than the 6970, while the 5GHz memory takes a bigger hit as it’s 500MHz (9%) slower than the 6970. As a result at stock settings the 6990 is closer to being a dual-GPU 6970 than the 5970 was a dual-GPU 5870; there is one exception we will see however. Meanwhile the 6990’s GPUs are fully enabled, so all 1536 SPs and 32 ROPs per GPU are available, making the only difference between the 6990 and 6970 the clockspeeds.

Compared to the 5970, the official idle TDP is down some thanks to Cayman’s better power management, leading to an idle TDP of 37W. Meanwhile under load we find our first doozy: the card’s TDP at default clocks is 375W (this is not a typo), and like the 5970 AMD has built it to take even more. Whereas the 5970 stayed within PCI-Express specifications at default clocks, the 6990 makes no attempt to do so, and as such at 375W is the most power hungry card to date.

AMD will be launching the 6990 at $699. Officially this is $100 more expensive than the 5970 at its launch, however the 5970 was virtually never available at this price until very late in the card’s lifetime. $700 does end up being much closer to both the 5970’s historical price and its price relative to AMD’s top single-GPU part (5870), which was $700 and approximately twice the cost respectively. With a more stable supply of GPUs and stronger pressure from NVIDIA we’d expect prices to stick closer to their MSRP this time around, but at the top there’s not a lot of pressure to keep prices from rising. Meanwhile AMD has not provided any hard numbers for availability, but $700 cards are not high volume products. We’d expect availability to be a non-issue.

With the launch of the 6990 AMD’s high-end product stack is fully fleshed out. At the top will be the 6990, followed by the 6970, the 6950 2GB, and the 6950 1GB. The astute among you will notice that the average price of the 6970 is less than half that of the 6990, and as a result a 6970 CrossFire setup is cheaper than the 6990. At the lowest price we’ve seen for the 6970, we could pick up 2 of them for $640, which will put the 6990 in an interesting predicament of being a bit more expensive and a bit slower than the 6970 in CrossFire.

March 2011 Video Card MSRPs
NVIDIA Price AMD
  $700 Radeon HD 6990
$480  
$350  
  $320-$340 Radeon HD 6970
  $249-269 Radeon HD 6950 2GB
 
$230-$250 Radeon HD 6950 1GB
GeForce GTX 560 Ti
$249  
  $219 Radeon HD 6870
$160-170 Radeon HD 6850

 

Meet The 6990
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  • Figaro56 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    2 HD 6970 Cards for $640? I don't think so! These cards are over $300 everywhere. I purchased 2 for $710 shipped and I thought that was a deal. Maybe reviews like yours here inflated the price and I purchased after the price adjustment. I have the same luck with gasoline on days I fill my tank. Reply
  • ViRGE - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Looking at the Egg, there's 2 different 6970s at $320, which is probably where AT got $640 from.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • Figaro56 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    All right, you got me there. I only buy XFX double lifetime warranty cards when I start spending this much on replacing my dual GPU solution.

    I seem to manage to actually re-sell my used video cards when I can offer then to a buyer with a lifetime warranty. XFX double lifetime warranty is not a sales gimic, it works. Heck, I would buy a used card if it had a lifetime warranty, it's kind of a no brainer given you actually want to buy that card int he first place.
    Reply
  • Arbie - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Thanks for keeping the Crysis Warhead minimum FPS charts!! To me, Crysis/Warhead remains the defining game (and not only technically). I don't even look at the numbers on the other titles.

    Also of prime importance to me are the idle power and, to a slightly lesser extent, idle noise.

    Of course, like most people reading your review, I wouldn't be buying a 6990 even if it were silent. In fact, given that PC graphics requirements are apparently ramping down to console levels, I wonder how AMD/Nvidia are going to sell any significant number of cards above midrange. My HD 5770 will run everything at 1920x1200, though not always with all sliders maxed. However, I don't see much if any difference (in DX9) when I do enable 4xAA vs 2xAA etc. Certainly not enough to double the price of this $140 card.

    A nit on the Crysis Warhead minimum fps chart for 1920x1200 Frost Bench - Gamer Quality - Enthusiast Shaders + 4xAA: Your Dec 10 chart shows 6970CF at 66.2 fps but this Mar 11 chart shows 66.6. Can you believe anyone would actually notice this, much less comment on it? We are too absorbed in this tech stuff (ain't it grand...).
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    They did say the new drivers made a slight difference, that seems likely to be one of the configurations they retested Reply
  • morphologia - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    That isn't portrait orientation in the picture...it's landscape. Reply
  • taltamir - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    The card was measured at 77.3db in the article.
    1. At what distance was it measured?
    2. What is its db measurement 1 meter away?
    Reply
  • taltamir - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I just looked it up, gold is worth 1430$/ounce right now.
    I highly doubt a watercooled 6990 will weigh half an ounce.
    Reply
  • ekrash - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    The performance bottleneck is also seen in nvidia's dual gpu offerings. Dual GPU cards operating in X16 PCIe slots must have their data lanes divided between the gpu's, so they are effectively operating at X8 data rates, not at X16 data rates. Whereas single gpu cards will utilize all X16 express lanes, and even then the PCIexpress standard may soon be obsoleted. I hope we can look forward to Intel's fiber optic technology effectively replacing all data bus signalling with 10GB fiber optic bus and peripheral device signalling which can simultaneously and independently utilize all of the different data protocols used for inter-device and system bus communications. Imagine soon AMD and Nvidia will be producing video cards with fiber-optic data buses which may change requirements for power supplied to present day PCI express slots and may change the standards in power supply manufacturing to require that additional power connector to a video card since the 75 watt PCIe slot will be obsolete.

    But ATI and Nvidia may also have to work with motherboard manufacturers to see if Intel's "Thunderbolt" fiber optic data buses can increase or freely throttle the video data bandwidth through its 10GB interface and would be tantamount to increasing data lanes from X16 to X32. It would be almost unlimited video bandwidth which far exceeds any bandwidth limitations vs availability that is needed today. Dual GPU's cannot promise the performance with the limitation of the PCIe X16 slot being divided to dual X8 channels, but it would be nice to see how they perform with unlimited bandwidth potential over a single 10GB fiber-optic. And that would change the battlefield between ATI-AMD and Nvidia.

    My 4870 X2's (Can run Quadfire) still rocks on enthusiast settings in Crysis and Warhead without any hiccups and I've not seen a slowdown of any sort on any level in Crysis.
    The price to performance ratio is declining and may affect my decision to purchase another dual GPU card, opting instead for single GPU card CF solutions that can utilize all X16 lanes by the GPU.

    BTW I did notice the lack of DATA on Crysis @1920x1200 with full enthusiast settings, so that data is missing from this review. Its Gamer plus enthusiast shaders.....not full enthusiast. As above the 4870 X2 runs full enthusiast settings, not one setting is scaled back, and not one hiccup....just smooth play throughout on a single 28" display.
    Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Why are we still using Crysis Warhead at "Gamer Quality"????? With cards like these why not turn everything maxed in game and then fidget with AA and the like? I don't get it. Reply

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